Let’s Talk About Length

The Order: 1886There’s been a lot of talk this week about the length of The Order: 1886. The early reports are saying that the game is only five hours long. Now, if it really is that long, and half of that is cutscenes (which I’ve also seen) that’s an issue, mainly from a value perspective. Spending $60 on a game that’s only a few hours long, and doesn’t really seem to have a ton of replayability to it, well that’s a ripoff. Price that lower, and I don’t see a problem with a game that short. But it has gotten me thinking this week about game length. It’s always a variable that’s tossed around in reviews, but I honestly don’t see a huge reason to. Short games can be great, and long games can drag on – I’ve seen some writers recently talking about Dying Light being one of those games with just so much in it, that the story gets a little lost (although I think the lack of fast travel is what’s padding the length myself).

Dragon Age: Inquisition

There is something to length for sure – but it’s not a number set in stone. Shooters don’t all need to be 15 hours long, while RPGs don’t all need to be 60+. Instead, length should depend on the strength of the actual game – if the writing and action are strong, I’m much more likely to stay with a game for a longer time. It’s a big part of why I love the BioWare games so much. They’re loaded with content – both actual gameplay, and lore-building codex entries – that reward playing thoroughly, but don’t actually feel super long. For example, I recently started playing Dragon Age: Inquisition, even though I still am also working through the first game. I’m about 25 hours into the game already, and still haven’t picked which side, Mages or Templars, I’m going to try to gain the support of. I’ve done technically three or four main Inquisitor’s Path quests, while doing tons of the sidequest stuff. I’ve hit level 11 already, and barely scratched the surface of it. And I love that. Mass Effect was very similar, I went as slowly as I could so I could really get everything. I think that Bethesda’s RPGs are also really similar – I’ve talked a bit about my experiences with Oblivion already before.

Advanced Warfare Cover

On the other side, FPS games have trended the opposite direction in the last ten years or so. The campaign has definitely taken on a bit of a secondary role to the competitive multiplayer side. Now we get a nice 12-15 hour, on the long side, action movie ride that doesn’t really let up. It’s a really easy trope to complain about the story in Shooters these days, but I do think there’s something to it. They are all very similar – which is why new approaches like Destiny and Titanfall are great; while new settings like Battlefield: Hardline and Advanced Warfare help out too. In my experience, Shooters are just trying to make sure you get through the story – there’s plenty of hand-holding, and not a lot of room for deviation – and then they get you prepped for the multiplayer and off you go. The problem really lies with games that are built around the story – games like The Order. If there’s nothing beyond that, and your game is that short, that’s a major problem. Shooters that focus on story do still have a role-model too: the BioShock games. There’s not really anything beyond the story content, and they are closer to the 20 hour mark, but there’s plenty of both lore-building material in there, as well as action to keep you entertained the whole time. Now I know that BioShock isn’t exactly a pure FPS, but it’s primarily a Shooter more than RPG.

There are always exceptions of course – for me those are the sandbox style action games. Grand Theft Auto, for all the great writing and action, just seems to lose my attention after a certain time. Even Saints Row, a series that I really love, had a wall that I would hit. Sometimes it’s the mechanics – that’s my issue with Halo: The Master Chief Collection still – that keeps me from wanting to play. I have a feeling that game length is going to be in the news and social media a lot the next few days, especially since The Order comes out tomorrow. Just try to keep in mind that a game’s worth and value is never really dependent on one sole factor.

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More New Rock Band 3 DLC From Harmonix

Rock Band 3 CoverIn yet another somewhat surprising move, yesterday’s Harmonix newsletter again announced that there would be more new DLC for Rock Band 3 today. Last time we got three songs, while today we’re only graced by two new tracks. That said they both look fun, and both are pretty damn good songs. Let’s take a quick look over them.

“RIZE OF THE FENIX” – TENACIOUS D
Fresh off of their Grammy win for best metal performance, Tenacious D return to the Rock Band 3 setlist with a song off of their most recent LP. “Rize of the Fenix” wasn’t a standout like “Tribute” or “The Metal” had been, but it’s still a really solid song all around. It’s got all of the standard Tenacious D flair – clever, funny lyrics, Jack Black’s surprisingly awesome singing, and a great mix of acoustic and rock guitar work. The charting looks like a fun one – it’s not exactly my cup of tea, since it’s got a lot of somewhat tricky chord changes with a lot of strumming in there. But it does look like a song that guitarists and signers will both really enjoy.

“BACK TO THE SHACK” – WEEZER
Another band that’s got a pretty solid track record – as well as history with rhythm games – we get a new Weezer song this week. Weezer had songs on Guitar Hero 3 (“My Name is Jonas), as well as on the first Rock Band (Say It Ain’t So), along with a number of DLC songs for both series. “Back to the Shack” was the first single off of last year’s new Weezer album, so we get a nice, fresh song. Like a lot of Weezer songs, there’s nothing super complicated going on – lots of power chords, with a few flairs throughout. The solo definitely has some weird strum patterns in the chart, but still the whole song looks like a pretty fun and easy one. The lyrics are great, drums would be a great one to pound out – all in all a solid choice for a couple bucks today.

It’s still hard to really say just what Harmonix is up to with this return of Rock Band 3 DLC. I really don’t think we’ll get back to weekly DLC until we see a new full game, but if this monthly DLC is their plan, at least until E3, I think that’s a great sign of potential future games. They are being pretty sneaky with it too – these DLC announcements have come on Monday’s the week they come out, which makes it hard to really predict where we could head with them. No matter what, I’m really glad that Rock Band 3 is getting some more love these days – it really is an incredibly fun game.

Minecraft Monday: Mega Man 3 Sprites Completed, Buffer Zone in Progress

I shared last week how I went about tackling the Robot Master sprites for Mega Man 3. Much like with those sprites, I took a little different approach to the Mega Man sprites with the weapons. With Mega Man 4, they were all bundled up together into one set – which looks alright with the fences I use for dividing and orientation removed. With this set though, I wanted to take a little more organized approach, hence my breaking the Mega Man sprites out into a separate section. In order to keep everything on one level, my plan was to put a standing sprite of Mega Man (with one exception), and the weapon’s sprite below him, followed by the menu icon. Aside from Top Spin, the plan worked pretty well – there’s a little variation, thanks to the fact that some weapons have big sprites – Spark Shock and Shadow Blade – while others are really quite thin – Gemini Laser and Needle Cannon.

So the organization worked out pretty well, but there were a couple other little things that still rub me wrong a little. First is Top Spin. As a Mega Man fan, it’s a crap weapon – I only think people use it to kill Shadow Man, and that’s it. It’s unreliable with its energy usage, and on top of that, it’s a melee weapon that requires you to spin into enemies with – and you can only use it while jumping. From a Minecraft pixel art perspective though, it’s even more annoying. One of the two colors for Mega Man’s armor is easy to match – the grey on his legs, hands and helmets. The problem is with the highlight color. According to the game artwork – it’s supposed to be a yellowish color:
Top Spin ArtHowever, the in-game sprite coloring looks a bit different. That yellow, which would be no problem replicating in Minecraft, isn’t in the sprite:Top Spin Sprite

Instead, that looks a lot like a pinkish-grey color. And while there is is a pink wool, and even pink clay, both have too much red in them to really act as an analog. So I ended up using the pink clay, but I’m not super happy with out it turned out. If there’s an update down the road that offers a better option, this is definitely one detail that I’ll go back and change. The other issue was also with Top Spin. It doesn’t actually have a weapon sprite – when you fire it in mid-air, you spin around a whole bunch – that’s the attack. So I used the jumping sprite for Mega Man, but instead of also using the crappy pink color for the spin lines, I just decided to forgo them completely. So Top Spin is a little off compared with the rest of the Mega Men.

Once I had finished up the Mega Man work, I decided to look at the buffer zone between Mega Man 4 and Mega Man 3. I had originally planned on putting in various sprites of Mega Man, Proto Man, Rush and even Robot Masters that I liked. What I instead went with was a repeating pattern of the 1-Up power-up (Mega Man’s Head) and the E-Tank pick-up. I had left a bit too much space horizontally, so when I go ahead on to Mega Man 2, I know to leave a bit less, to give me a nice even split. I think 20 blocks will let me have two free spaces on either side of the widest parts of the sprites. But the nice thing is that with the white carpet placed down after, it looks pretty good. It’s certainly better than just having blank space – it gives a bit of a feeling like wallpaper to me.

Which brings me to my plan of attack for this week. I still have a bunch of free space in the sprite field, so much like I did with Mega Man 4, I’m going to add in an extra portrait. Instead of making the one for Wily, which would go with theme, I think I’ll do Break Man (Proto Man) and if there’s still space enough, I will do one of the busted ones from the Doc Robot phase. After that’s handled, I need to extend down the buffer pieces down to the sprites, carpet it, and then it’s on to Mega Man 2. I would say I’m probably only a couple hours away from moving on, which I can’t wait. Mega Man 3 definitely has been a much more complicated project than Mega Man 4 was. I don’t expect Mega Man 2 to be that rough, but I will be making sure to not add in more user error like I did this time around.

Weekly News Recap – Week of February 9, 2015

There were a couple pretty big news pieces to talk about this week. So let’s not waste too much time and get right into this.

Bethesda Softworks Logo

BETHESDA PREPS FOR E3 CONFERENCE
With what could be some of the biggest news of the week, Bethesda announced that they will have their first ever E3 press event this year. Of course that immediately started the rumors flying even faster than they were. The initial thought is of course that this is where Bethesda will finally confirm Fallout 4. However, Bethesda is one of those developers that has always done things their own way, so there’s nothing to say that anything is set in stone quite yet. Indeed, I wouldn’t put it outside the realm of possibility of seeing a surprise or two in there. Elder Scrolls Online is launching on consoles this summer, right around E3, so I would fully expect to see that; and there’s always the chance that Dishonored could finally get the sequel it deserves. And there’s always the outside chance they completely buck with the trends and go with Elder Scrolls VI. Only time will tell.

Evolve Cover

EVOLVE LAUNCHES, DYING LIGHT IS NUMBER 1, AND DRAGON AGE SELLS LOTS
This week we saw the launch of Evolve, the highly anticipated 4V1 co-op/competitive shooter. After playing both the Alpha and Beta, I do think that Evolve can really make a big splash this early in the year. It does have some competition for early leader of the year in Dying Light – which today hit the number 1 sales position. And continuing on with sales talk, EA said during their sales data call recently that Dragon Age: Inquisition is BioWares most successful launch, based on units sold. That’s a pretty big bit of news, since BioWare has had some incredible titles over the years.

The Remastered Collections I Most Want to See Next

It’s been a pretty typical sight so far in this console generation to see big hitters from the previous one upscaled to play on this one. Just this past month we got a new Xbox One/PS4 version of Saints Row IV. We’ve also gotten Tomb Raider and Resident Evil to go along with Halo: The Master Chief Collection among others on the Xbox One. And that got me thinking a little bit about what sort of collections I would really like to see put out on the One.

Mass Effect

MASS EFFECT
Partially because I’ve been back into BioWare games thanks to Dragon Age: Inquisition, but also because I’ve been finally going back and finishing up the DLC for Mass Effect 3. But that means loading up the 360 – which means dealing with a controller that has seen more than its fair share of use and is definitely showing its age. In general, I have come to the point where I definitely prefer playing my Xbox One. Which brings me to my main point – I can’t think of a better time for an upgraded collection of all three Mass Effect games. BioWare is riding on a high right now thanks to Dragon Age: Inquisition. I’m sure they have a team working on the DLC for DA:I, and they’ve already said that the next Mass Effect game is already in development. That might not leave a big team that could work on a Mass Effect collection – but there’s always a possibility. It would be probably one of the most jam-packed upgraded collections, thanks to the sheer amount of DLC across the three games. Put all onto one collection, the Mass Effect Sheppard Trilogy would rival The Master Chief Collection for sheer content, but would probably work right away.

Dragon Age Origins

DRAGON AGE
Which is a nice segue to talk about my next pick – the previous two Dragon Age titles. Staying with the BioWare theme –¬†albeit one that might have to wait a bit while they do the DLC for Dragon Age: Inquisition. After the DLC season is done with, there’s a good chance that they might want to have all of the games available on one console. There’s also a bunch of DLC – mainly for Dragon Age: Origins – that would round out the collection. It could also open up the possibility of having save file transfers across all three games. While the Dragon Age Keep is a good option – especially for those that haven’t finished the previous two games. But having the three games all together would streamline the process and open up options for some certain achievements even – much like the Mass Effect games. It really is a no-brainer, but the real issue is time and man power – BioWare isn’t a massive studio, and has other projects already in the works, so who knows, there’s always a chance in the future.

Batman Arkham Asylum Cover

BATMAN: ARKHAM COLLECTION
One other really great possibility would be collecting together the three previous Batman: Arkham games. With Arkham Knight coming out this June, there’s certainly a bit of a wait for the possibility of the collected works. While there really isn’t much in the way of crossover – there’s no reason to have a save-file transfer between games – it still would be great to have all the games in one spot. Updating the graphics to be on par with what Arkham Knight is looking to be would certainly make running through the Asylum even more intense. Add in the fact that Arkham Asylum and Arkham City are two of the best games of the last few years and it again seems like a no-brainer.

I do think that if you’re going to spend the time and money to upgrade classics to the current-gen, it makes much more sense to bundle together multiple games. With the new consoles using Blu-Ray, there’s much more room for data, ignoring the fact that both Sony and Xbox are pushing digital distribution. It might result in some pretty big downloads, but I think the payoff would be worth it. There are plenty of other games that could stand a remake – Dishonored jumps to mind right away – and hopefully developers see the opportunity. I don’t want to suggest that they should focus on old games entirely, but those classics still have their place.

Dragon Age Inquistion – RPG Multiplayer Done Right

Dragon Age: InquisitionI had held off on getting Dragon Age: Inquisition for a long time, primarily because I am currently still making my way through Dragon Age: Origins. It’s a series that I just missed – I went the Mass Effect route instead, so when DA:O and Dragon Age II were both on sale/free on the 360 in the last couple years, I picked them up to play when I wasn’t working on something newer. Of course, that was the plan before I sat down with the first game and remembered that it’s a BioWare RPG – insanely detailed, and not a game to blaze through. So my save files have sat there, uncompleted, and now that I’ve moved on to playing my Xbox One pretty much exclusively, it’s been even longer since I’ve played.

But that was before the big EA sale on Xbox Live a couple weeks back. With that sale, they had a couple crazy markdowns – Titanfall was $10 of all things – and Dragon Age: Inquisition Deluxe was only $40. So while I felt pretty far behind story-wise, I knew that there was a multiplayer mode as well, and that I had a couple other friends that had it so we could play that together while I figured out what I would do about the story. I had played the Mass Effect 3 multiplayer and really enjoyed it, so I thought this had a chance to be good as well. So last week, between bouts of Battlefield: Hardline, I stepped into the world of High Fantasy and played my part in the Weekend Challenge for the Multiplayer.

Dragon Age Inquisition Multiplayer

When you first create your multiplayer character, you have your choice of three characters/classes. I went against my usual pick for High Fantasy (Sword and Shield) and went with the archer. All of the multiplayer characters are pre-set in their race and gender, as was the case in Mass Effect (sort of) so customization isn’t really present in multiplayer. Aside from the appearances that your different armors grant you, the upgrades you apply to armor and weapons, and the abilities you pick while levelling – that’s about it. The other issue I ran into is that your base stats are hidden – all you really have is a set of three bars for your Health, Attack and Defense stats, and the same for your three different defenses (melee, ranged and magic). I think that stems from BioWare simplifying the display to help a wider audience get into the action. But for gamers that have played RPGs for years and are accustomed to having all that information right at your fingertips, it’s a little frustrating to not have it. All that said though, the multiplayer is a ton of fun. All of those RPG elements that you might think you need, turn out to be extraneous. All the important info is still there – your health is easily managed, the cooldowns on you skills are easily tracked, and the damage you deal is still displayed, as well as the status effects. While it’s not quite the same level of control over the action as Mass Effect, there is still a lot more than in the original Dragon Age.

The actual game play is very reminiscent of the multiplayer in Mass Effect 3 – your team of four is dropped into an area, and must fight through increasingly difficult enemies before culminating in a final wave with a boss enemy. Mass Effect 3 was a little different though, since it was much closer to a traditional Horde mode; this has you moving through five different rooms in a larger dungeon. The settings all fit in with the story in Dragon Age: Inquisition albeit there only being three settings. Knowing BioWare, they have plenty of plans for future content – both story-based and multiplayer. If it’s like their plan with Mass Effect 3, the multiplayer will mainly be free stuff – characters, weapons, gear and maps. While I might be woefully behind story-wise, but that doesn’t really matter that much in the multiplayer. Even if you aren’t typically an RPG player, I really think that Dragon Age: Inquisition might be a perfect gateway to them – or Mass Effect for that matter. BioWare manages to do something really incredible by taking RPGs and making them incredibly accessible, while still having some serious depth. I really can’t wait to see what their plans for the rest of the year are – I think they could have a real strong E3 this year.

The Battlefield: Hardline Beta – Final Thoughts

Battlefield HardlineLast night the Battlefield: Hardline beta closed up, and now DICE and Visceral can take all that data that us players have created and use it to hopefully craft up a really great launch, which the series really needs. So with a full week of playing under my belt I thought I’d offer up where I think the series is headed.

First of all, EA has to repair the series a bit thanks to Battlefield 4‘s launch. Thankfully, based solely around the beta for Hardline, it really does look like they have that sorted. The beta alone was more stable than Battlefield 4 was for a good chunk of it’s life, in my experience. Even playing with my typical group – one in Boston, one in NYC and one in California, plus myself – we really didn’t experience much in the way of lag at all. Even with the wacky server browser on consoles, using the squad join feature lets your group stay together, using quick join to ensure a smooth connection. I was also, unknowingly, using my WiFi on my Xbox One to play, instead of my usual wired connection (that’s what I get for playing my 360 more these days). So as far as the UI sort of things are concerned, things work well, and with a little tweaking to some details, it’ll be just fine. The only real issues that I encountered that were bothersome were the assignments not really updating properly in the post-game report, and some of my loadout selections not saving – in particular my handgun wouldn’t keep its attachments on the crooks side, but worked fine for the cops.

Battlefield Hardline Bank Job

Both of those issues though are small things, that I expect will be fixed before launch. In terms of the core gameplay, though, I really enjoyed the beta. I spent the vast majority of my play time in Heist, the new game mode for Hardline that acts very similar to one flag CTF. One team of crooks assaults a vault, pulls two bags of cash out, and brings them to two exfil locations. The other side has the cops, holding out against them. As is usually the case in game modes like this, the defenders are definitely holding an advantage – infinite spawns, and two of the drop-off points are incredibly easy to hold. And yet, it’s still very much possible for the crooks to win – and it’s not a odd game or two. It’s somehow pretty balanced – and removing the vehicles puts all of the impetus on the players gun-handling. The other new mode – Hotwire – is a totally different beast. It’s essentially Conquest, the Battlefield classic, but the capture points are instead vehicles – you hop in, and drive fast to capture them. It’s a pretty cool take on Conquest, but requires a whole lot of teamwork – to take down captured vehicles you need good shots, or heavy weapons. It’s fun – but the only real lag I experienced was in Hotwire.

I think that in general, Hardline is a pretty fresh Battlefield game – it still feels very much like the series, but the new setting and characters really help it. It still feels very much like a military game, but with just enough tweaks to give it a unique feel. If they can get some of the little details ironed out before the March launch, I think EA could have a real good shooter on their hands for the first part of the year – for the second year running after Titanfall.